Papal Pradas, Cats and 'That American Chocolate Drink'

Companies are eager to cash in on the pontiff's popularity.

February 11, 2009, 2:42 AM

NEW YORK, April 14, 2008 — -- No, Pope Benedict XVI will NOT be wearing Prada shoes on his trip to America, Vatican officials insist.

Imagine getting the pope to endorse your product.

To a consumer base of 1.1 billion customers (the world's Catholics), he's the official representative on Earth of Christ himself ("The Vicar of Christ"), with ultimate earthly authority on how to judge your soul.

That would be some endorsement.

Tiger Woods couldn't hold a candle.

But traveling popes always have to guard against would-be stardust profiteers, like the Mexico City potato chip company that managed to get the pope's picture on its little bags for one papal visit. They reportedly sold like hotcakes in the devout tumult.

Traveling pontiffs even have to be wary of the unguarded commercial blessing that could turn them into Papal Pitchmen accidentally — like that time we were flying with Pope John Paul II into Denver for a giant Catholic youth rally.

Chatting casually about the pope at the back end of the plane before landing, his spokesmen mumbled something about having to remind himself to get "a couple of cases of that American chocolate drink he likes" to take back to the Vatican.

"Pope Loves Yoohoo!" headlines hit the wires soon after the press corps spilled onto the tarmac, and the spokesman had to make a careful statement denying that John Paul had any specific preference for any given American soft drink.

Popes don't do endorsements, except for saints and the hidden goodness in every soul.

We'll probably never know if the two cases later reported disappearing into the belly of the papal plane actually did contain Yoohoo or any other given American soft drink.

And no one knows how the "Pope wears Prada" story got started about the "Shoes of the Fisherman," whose tips peek out from under the famous white robes, but much ink was spent in the Italian press sorting it out before the inevitable Vatican denial finally took hold.

If it really has. How many fascinated local – or network – anchors and reporters will refer live on the air this coming week to the pope's Pradas?

When such humanizing personal anecdotes get started about so celestial a figure, they never really die out, but live on in their own eternal afterlife in a heaven of popular imagination.

Like the one about the pope's cat, and how Benedict took this poor Roman feline stray with him to live in the papal apartments under the frescoes of Raphael and angels of Michelangelo.

Never mind that ABC's Phoebe Natanson – who has run our Rome and Vatican bureau for years and has the most credible deep sources imaginable in the Eternal City – launched a full investigation and eventually confirmed to us here in the home office that THERE IS NO REPEAT NO CAT LIVING WITH THE POPE IN THE VATICAN!

Never mind that His Holiness did not, upon his election, decide to take what was actually his Roman neighbor's cat, with whom for some years he'd had a pleasant human-cat friendship, with him into the venerable Sistine Palace.

It's just too good a story.

A children's book about the pope's cat is now on sale in Italy, and he (she? Kittens on the way?) will doubtless romp and mouse through those high halls of grace in the papal palazzo as surely and long as Eloise romps through the Plaza.

Pope Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) apparently did, however, take his upright piano with him into the papal apartments, and is fairly reliably reported to relax in the afternoons playing a little Mozart and Beethoven.

Will he find time to play a little piano in the States?

We'll see. But whether he does or not, I can just hear his elegant grace notes now. It would be a good story.

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